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For Red Lake Tribal Council member Eugene Standing Cloud, watching MDS volunteers at work is like watching a group of people “on autopilot.”

“We are so thankful to MDS for being here,” he said of how the organization has come to repair houses damaged by a tornado in 2021. “The volunteers have so much experience. I just stand here and watch all the good work being done.”

The help is especially appreciated since the county where the reservation is located is the second poorest in the state of Minnesota—the poorest county is also home to a Native American reservation.

“Our goal is to change that,” Standing Cloud said. “We want to empower people through education and training.”

Standing Cloud is also looking forward to meeting and engaging volunteers while MDS is in Red Lake—sharing with them about Native American history, culture and ceremonies.

It will also include countering the traditional narrative about the westward “expansion” of the U.S. plains. “We call it the invasion from the east,” said Standing Cloud, noting the tribe is still fighting to regain territory lost during treaty negotiations in the 19th century.

Service in Red Lake is not the first time MDS has worked with Native Americans in the U.S. Previously, volunteers served in Native American communities in South Dakota, Montana and Louisiana.

We want to empower people through education and training.

— Eugene Standing Cloud, Red Lake Tribal Council member

In Canada, volunteers have served Indigenous people in Brantford, Ontario and also renovated an office for the MCC Ontario Indigenous Neighbours program in Timmins, Ontario.

As for Red Lake, the work is being done in two phases said Jeff Koller, Region Three Operations Coordinator.

The first phase is turning an old grocery story into a volunteer center and base of operations. Phase two will be sending out volunteers to fix exterior damage to homes that was caused by the tornado; that is expected to take place through the summer and into early fall.

MDS could also be involved through winter doing interior repairs to homes from water damage that resulted from the storm, Koller said.

“Right now, we don’t know how long MDS will be there. It could be a year, or maybe two years. But currently we know we will be there for sure until fall,” he said.

When done, MDS will leave behind the renovated grocery store for use as a community or youth centre. “It will be another tangible contribution to the community from our time here,” he said.

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